Westminster Council defend social housing sales amid opposition criticism

Westminster City Hall. Picture: Westminster City Council

Westminster City Hall. Picture: Westminster City Council - Credit: Archant

Westminster Council has defended its policy of selling off “unsuitable” council homes after opposition councillors criticised the “unacceptable” policy.

There are 17 properties set to be auctioned off during July, and 10 more planned for later in the year.

But Labour's housing spokesperson Cllr Pancho Lewis said: "It seems to symbolise a crass attitude to social housing.

"There's a massive lack of social housing in the borough - we are seeing lots of people in temporary accomodation."

The council's housing lead Cllr Andrew Smith said its programme of sales in fact had helped it increase the number of bedrooms it had to offer council tenants, and demand for bigger properties was higher.

He said: "In Westminster we are committed to delivering homes that meet the needs of our residents.

"We need to deliver decent homes and new homes for overcrowded families."

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The 17 properties set for auction are split across seven postcodes and include five one-bedroom flats in W9.

Cllr Smith continued: "Over the last six years we've sold unsuitable properties needing significant investment with 140 bedrooms in total, but that money then been used for new larger and higher quality properties providing 262 bedrooms, an increase in 122 new bedrooms for Westminster families in housing need."

Cllr Lewis said the issue was more fundamental: "It's an issue at council level and it's one at a national level.

"This is something we just don't think is acceptable given you have got so many people who are homeless."

The Labour man also criticised council house purchases in Brent and Camden as an "echo" of a policy that saw the council's leader in the 1980s, Dame Shirley Porter, house council tenants in far-flung boroughs.

And Cllr Smith said, although the town hall's priority was to buy in Westminster, it would buy outside of the borough if it could "get good value for money".

Council policy is to limit all council housing to within a 30-minute commuting distance of the borough.

There are currently 4.032 households on Westminster's housing waiting list.

This includes 810 households waiting for one-bedroom or studio apartments.